OPINION: Bowled over by cricketing reverend's sporting achievements
- Credit: David Armstrong Collection
Talented sporting all-rounders always face tough choices, especially when football and cricket seasons overlap. Hard at times to tell in these fixture-crammed days which is “the great summer game”.
I tackled few such dilemmas as a modest performer at school and beyond. If I had a summer speciality as young village scorer maturing into occasional spinner with a deadly straight delivery, that had as much to do with social seduction as team selection.
Pints tended to come before points in league matches. Cup-ties provided extra scope for banter and bonhomie. Friendlies blossomed best in locations where games were played again in pubs keen on keeping the impromptu singalong tradition alive.
I lived for nearly a decade next door to the old Lakenham cricket ground, a green lung at the heart of Norwich during my sporting reporting days. Norfolk headquarters to nourish an enduring passion for the game along with all its colourful history and characters.
One of the key personalities to paint alluring pictures with well-selected words was David Armstrong, county secretary and also holder of a similar administrative role with the Minor Counties Cricket Association. As we strolled round the well-manicured ground it was often a case of talking behind the bowler’s arm.
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His Short History of Norfolk County Cricket remains a treasure trove of facts and figures decorating so many epic performances. I’ve been delving through my copy for evidence to support a claim for George Barkley Raikes to be celebrated as one of the county’s most gifted sporting all-rounders.
Born at Carleton Forehoe, near Wymondham, in 1873, he played first-class cricket for Oxford University and Hampshire, turned out for an England X1 against Australia – and also captained Norfolk with a memorable measure of success in the Minor Counties Championship.
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He made his soccer mark as goalkeeper for Oxford University, Wymondham Town and Corinthians. Raikes was capped four times for England, twice against Wales with other appearances against Scotland and Ireland.
Ordained in 1897. he became curate at Portsea, Portsmouth’s largest parish, and then chaplain to the Duke of Portland. It was back to Norfolk in 1920 as Rector of Bergh Apton (spellings and pronunciations vary), seven miles south-east of Norwich, a pulpit innings lasting until 1936.
The Rev George Barkley Raikes died aged 93 at Lamyatt, near Shepton Mallet in Somerset in 1966. As far as I know, he resisted temptation to pen his autobiography and call it Raikes Progress.
Naturally, I was most interested in his Norfolk cricket exploits as the “real” summer game at last gathers pace. A middle-order batsman and right-arm fast-medium bowler, he led his county to Minor Counties Championship titles in 1905 and 1910.
First leg of this Edwardian double came when Norfolk won their last eight matches after losing the first and drawing the second. Raikes set a stirring example, averaging 47 with the bat and claiming 27 wickets at an average of under 16 apiece. He scored two centuries during Lakenham Cricket Week
A similar success story unfolded five years later when the championship was run in two divisions with top team in each section meeting at end of the season to decide the title. Norfolk headed the North and East and Berkshire the South and West section.
Norfolk won this challenge match by the overwhelming margin of an innings and 150 runs, a triumph built largely around the first double century for the county by wicket-keeper Geoffrey Stevens. He also took 22 catches during that season.
Captain Raikes relished another outstanding season at the helm. heading both batting and bowling tables with an aggregate of 679 and an average of over 61 in the former and 57 victims at an average of 10.66 in the latter.
The Rev Raikes amassed 3,439 runs in all for Norfolk at an average of over 30 and took 282 wickets at a shade under 16 apiece. His brother Ernest and nephew Thomas both played first-class cricket.
I am indebted to David Armstrong’s revised and updated history of Norfolk cricket, with a foreword by Henry Blofeld, for giving me ammunition to fire a salvo in favour of George Barkley Raikes as one of the most talented and inspiring figures in our county’s sporting history.
Footynote: Dispute remains over whether Raikes captained England in their football international against Ireland in 1896.The FA list does not include him as skipper – although two Irish newspapers gave him the honour.
Skip's Aside: My Norfolk country childhood, much more Rooks and Reprobates than Swallows and Amazons, fashioned an incurable sense of identity and place.
We cherished our patch, defended it when necessary and treated with the utmost suspicion anyone or anything that threatened to upset our carefully constructed applecart.
Tucked away cosily between Dereham and Swaffham, far enough from the noise and speed of the grimly functional A47 to hint at a reasonable impression of Brigadoon, our little parish rooted in the regular rhythms of farms and fields largely ignored rest of the world. Of course, such glorious innocence – we like to call it self-sufficiency – could not last. Commuters and well-heeled retired folk seeking pastoral refuge replaced a dwindling land army left scanning headlands for reinforcements that never came.
Mechanisation marched in to turn tied cottages into Sunday colour supplement fodder and to push giant horses towards rural museum furrows.
A brutally simplistic summary of what happened when I was demobbed from Eden in the early 1960s. But I am trying hard to avoid tumbling into sentimental traps usually reserved for those who loved and lost.
Or even learnt and left. While looking back with fondness and gratitude on those calm but austere post-war years for giving me a strong set of values to go with that unfading sense of location, I recognise and respect what succeeding generations of country dwellers, including members of my own family, have managed to achieve on far thinner resources.
Communities like ours, a fair number of whom might have been blissfully unaware of each other, took school, pub, chapel, church and village hall for granted. Football, cricket and darts teams flourished.
There were also enough expert volunteers to keep roads open when it snowed.
Postal and newspaper deliveries rarely faltered. Bread, groceries, meat, fish, coal, paraffin, bottles of Corona, recharged accumulators and fresh laundry arrived regularly at the door. We grew most of our own vegetables. Buses called twice a week to widen shopping and social horizons in town. The doctor and district nurse came when you called.
Now I’m on nodding terms with most of Norfolk’s 700-odd villages after nearly 60 years of regular rounds as chronicler, broadcaster and nosey native, I wonder how many can come anywhere close to boasting that list of facilities and services.